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A well-meaning book is dragged down by its sad-sack hero.

Ah, talent shows. Dancing, acrobatics, contortion—the sky’s the limit. Just add a frozen pond on a moonlit winter’s night, and there are the makings of an extravaganza extraordinaire.

The excitement is enough to encourage even normally hibernating forest critters to brave a little frostbite for the sake of the spectacle. However, Toad (who looks a great deal like a frog) is sure he is talentless and says so, over and over. The self-deprecating, lugubrious laments grow old quickly. “It’s best if I keep myself out of sight,” he sighs. “The others must think I am silly and useless.” And that is just the first lamentation. To make matters worse, the caliber of performances playing out on the ice only serves to reinforce Toad’s extreme lack of self-esteem. As the competition draws to an end, an observant snail announces—much to Toad’s chagrin—that the ambivalent amphibian has yet to compete. Intending to demur, he emerges from the shadows and…Slips! Slides! Glides! No one has ever beheld an ice-skating toad before. Amid the uproarious cheers, he’s named the winner. Smythe’s digitized watercolor illustrations are the indisputable stars here, as the talented sylvan insomniacs erupt from lively, purple-hued pages. Despite his accidental success (he really has no talent), the rallying cry of “You never know what you can do until you try!” is a message timid souls everywhere can embrace.

A well-meaning book is dragged down by its sad-sack hero. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78603-011-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Frances Lincoln

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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A sweet, tender and charming experience to read aloud or together.

A clueless duckling tries to make a new friend.

He is confused by this peculiar-looking duck, who has a long tail, doesn’t waddle and likes to be alone. No matter how explicitly the creature denies he is a duck and announces that he is a cat, the duckling refuses to acknowledge the facts.  When this creature expresses complete lack of interest in playing puddle stomp, the little ducking goes off and plays on his own. But the cat is not without remorse for rejecting an offered friendship. Of course it all ends happily, with the two new friends enjoying each other’s company. Bramsen employs brief sentences and the simplest of rhymes to tell this slight tale. The two heroes are meticulously drawn with endearing, expressive faces and body language, and their feathers and fur appear textured and touchable. Even the detailed tree bark and grass seem three-dimensional. There are single- and double-page spreads, panels surrounded by white space and circular and oval frames, all in a variety of eye-pleasing juxtapositions. While the initial appeal is solidly visual, young readers will get the gentle message that friendship is not something to take for granted but is to be embraced with open arms—or paws and webbed feet.

A sweet, tender and charming experience to read aloud or together. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-86990-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends.

Is it a stormy-night scare or a bedtime book? Both!

Little Blue Truck and his good friend Toad are heading home when a storm lets loose. Before long, their familiar, now very nervous barnyard friends (Goat, Hen, Goose, Cow, Duck, and Pig) squeeze into the garage. Blue explains that “clouds bump and tumble in the sky, / but here inside we’re warm and dry, / and all the thirsty plants below / will get a drink to help them grow!” The friends begin to relax. “Duck said, loud as he could quack it, / ‘THUNDER’S JUST A NOISY RACKET!’ ” In the quiet after the storm, the barnyard friends are sleepy, but the garage is not their home. “ ‘Beep!’ said Blue. ‘Just hop inside. / All aboard for the bedtime ride!’ ” Young readers will settle down for their own bedtimes as Blue and Toad drop each friend at home and bid them a good night before returning to the garage and their own beds. “Blue gave one small sleepy ‘Beep.’ / Then Little Blue Truck fell fast asleep.” Joseph’s rich nighttime-blue illustrations (done “in the style of [series co-creator] Jill McElmurry”) highlight the power of the storm and capture the still serenity that follows. Little Blue Truck has been chugging along since 2008, but there seems to be plenty of gas left in the tank.

A sweet reminder that it’s easy to weather a storm with the company and kindness of friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85213-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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